Thai audiences seek trusted media, not just the quick one

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The multi-skilled, multi-tasking and ever-mindful journalist is in demand in these times of media disruption in Thailand, as well as elsewhere in Southeast Asia. With the digitalisation of our information settings comes the need to update not just how news is reported, but the teaching and training of journalism itself.

Journalistic skills these days include news and digital literacy, some fact-checking, cyber hygiene while keeping focused on explaining the issues of the day to news audiences, explains Chulalongkorn University lecturer in communication arts Jessada Salathong.

In this chat, Jessada and Fojo Media Institute’s consultant Johanna Son discuss the challenges that our changed media settings pose on journalism today, why it is important to develop journalism learning tools that are contextualised in perspective and language.

Jessada translated the Fojo-published ‘Online Journalism and Storytelling: A Training and Learning Kit’, which was written by Johanna, into Thai. A product of Fojo’s Southeast Asia Media Training Network (SEAMTN) project, the book is also available in Burmese, Vietnamese, Lao and Thai and will also soon be out in Khmer.

Jessada Salatong

Chulalongkorn University lecturer in communication arts Jessada Salathong

Johanna: In Thailand, the word ‘disruption’ is often used to describe the media environment. What has this been like for the Thai media and what is the difference with the rest of Southeast Asia?

Jessada: Media disruption has made a big change in the media industry and in our lives. On one hand, it helps create a new market and value, but on the other, it eventually goes on to disrupt the whole media ecology. It changes the way we produce and consume media like never before. Digital technology, like smartphones and social media, make (information) more realistic, like ‘anyone can be a reporter anywhere at any time’.

This phenomenon is even clearer in Southeast Asia, where the population is tech-savvy with a high rate of smartphone ownership and social media use. While citizen journalism has increasing momentum and influence, the status and importance of professional media has been questioned.

The world has become very digital and this has changed both the content of news and information and form, such as ways of distribution. Is it that the media are trying to use technology better, while digital-native spaces are trying to do news but are not always good at it? How different are their skills and challenges?

In Thailand, media are facing a digital dilemma. Like in other countries, traditional media, especially print and broadcast, are facing a tough situation. They have to go online for their survival but the road (to this) is not easy. The political polarisation between pro and anti-government (groups) has triggered criticism on the role of the ‘professional media’. Traditional media, especially the terrestrial TV stations, have been criticised that they cannot catch up with political movements by young protesters and do not report the situation professionally. However, online news outlets in Thailand have also been questioned on ethical standards and reliability of news.

The criticism also (reached) media and journalism schools, as there are questions like ‘what have we been teaching?’ and ‘do we still need to have a journalism school if anyone can be a journalist?’

Johanna Son

Fojo Media Institute’s consultant Johanna Son

What does this environment mean for the Thai journalist these days?

The biggest challenge for both digital-native and digital-migrant media to make themselves professional is how to make quick, constructive and compelling stories on the basis of social responsibility and media ethical standards. In order to jump into this bandwagon, journalists have to be equipped with digital literacy as well as fact-checking, storytelling and multi-tasking skills.

But doesn’t it also work the other way around? Given the variety and noise in online spaces, where a lot of news are too, would you agree there is a need to also remind audiences about what is news and what is not, what is the product of journalistic skill and what is just ‘stuff’?

Definitely, audiences also need to have media and digital literacy. Nowadays there are so many, or too many, information sources, and audiences might easily get inundated by a flood of information overload. The first and important step is to be selective in making  choices in information sources. Audiences need to have some basic teeth with which to bite into what are good products of journalistic skills, what to trust and share. However, it would be much easier for audiences if their ‘choices’ are (already) professional enough, at least in meeting the standards of online journalism.

Fojo has an online journalism book that discusses storytelling in online spaces, because these shape how we view, use and distribute news. But online journalism is not only about using online tools, but understanding concepts such as conscious digital use, how social platforms work. It goes far beyond technology. What might be useful from this tool in the Thai context, or what would be useful to add in later?

The kit has been contextualised in CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam countries) and with the COVID-19 situation. Most of the content can be adapted to Thailand’s context. However, it would be handier if the kit also touches on how online journalists can make reports amid protests as Thailand and Myanmar are facing political confrontations. These have to be reported mindfully and with fact-checking to avoid (contributing to) echo chamber effects that might intensify political violence.

As a teacher, what are major challenges that you think shape the way Thai audiences use news and content online and need to be addressed in teaching and training?

‘FOMO’ or the fear of missing out, is a general habit for netizens in Thailand. They want to be the first who know and share. This makes online journalists have to work very quickly in a highly competitive environment. The most dangerous part of this phenomenon is misinformation and fake news that can be spread easily and quickly. Another challenge in Thailand is the digital divide especially between older and younger generations. The older netisen tends to have less media literacy and easily shares news and information without fact-checking or verification. In order to stop the infodemic, a journalist needs to be mindful in fact-checking. Credibility and accuracy of the information should be the first priority, not speed. Nowadays, the audience also looks for trusted media rather than the quick one.

A section in the book explains the terms that we use a lot around online venues but do not always understand well, such as ‘personal data’. How did you find this section, and would these terms also need explaining for Thai audiences?

These terms are fundamental for journalists to get themselves familiar with online journalism and storytelling. Some more advanced concepts such as SEO (search engine optimisation), the echo chamber effect and cyber hygiene can be introduced for further discussion. However, if we talk about Thai netizens in general, these terms are still new to their ears and eyes. So, they are not only useful for journalists, but for netizens in general as well.

How did you find the process of translating the book into Thai? Were there some parts, words, concepts that were ‘harder’ to translate, and why?

Translating this book was a good opportunity for me to review and (do) research about online journalism in the Thai context. There are many terms that have often been used in English, like ‘algorithms’ and ‘pandemic’. But (in translating) I have to think about people who may never heard about these terms before. It’s pretty challenging. I have to do my research into the tools provided in the book. I tried to visit the online tools so that I can get to know about them and it was quite eye-opening for me.

There are not always a lot of practical learning/educational tools and resources relating to news and journalism that are current and in local languages, Southeast Asia included. What are the teaching materials in Thai universities like? Are they foreign or local material, and are there original material in Thai?

There are textbooks and toolkits about journalism in Thai, but not many of them touch upon online journalism. Moreover, it’s very rare to see a toolkit produced and translated by professional journalists. It (the Fojo-published one) is unique with updated context and content, especially tools and techniques. The ‘tips for discussion’ part is also very useful for (having) more engaging activities in class.

How does having learning material in Thai, whether for workshops or in classrooms, make a difference? How could the Thai edition of this online journalism book be useful?

Materials about online journalism in Thai are still very limited. Access to materials in English, with jargon and academic terminologies is not easy for Thai learners in general. I think the Thai translation of this online journalism book is very useful and handy for Thai learners. Its length is also user-friendly as it’s not too long and too scary for beginners.

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